Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember William Carey and ask a question about his title as the “father of modern missions.”

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 17th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Based on the correspondence I get for this show, I’m fairly certain that there is a breadth of Christian traditions and denominations represented.

And I know, having worshipped in a few different denominations and with dear friends and family in other traditions, that we often have different (if not overlapping) “Halls of Fame”. In fact, often on this show, I am struck with names, events, and ideas that, for some, are commonplace to the point of boredom and that same might be unknown in other circles.

[As a side note, this is why your emails and questions- even if you think they are too simple- are really helpful to me and others!]

So- all of this is a prelude to today’s character- William Carey, who was born on this, the 17th of August in 1761. He would become a missionary- one of the most famous of modern missionaries- even such that he has been given epitaphs such as “the father of modern missions” or “the father of modern protestant missions” or “the father of modern overseas baptist missions”- you might see in the drawing of that circle tighter that there is some controversy over his role as a “first.” Nonetheless, his outsized role as a popular missionary whose story has been told and retold has made him the first name in modern missions for many Christians.

So- consider this an introduction or refresher- to a remarkable life (and, like all lives, not free from sin and controversy).

William Carey was born in 1761 to poor parents- he was the oldest of five born to weavers in central England. He was baptized in the Anglican Church but left for the congregational church after working with these dissenters as an apprentice cobbler. He was further radicalized by the Baptists- he would join the “particular baptists” in 1783 and be re-Baptized.

Two quick points: the Anglican Church was the established church, and in the 1700s, it was a serious issue to leave it. While dissenters were given some rights, it would restrict their social circle and ability to get certain kinds of work. Secondly, a “particular” Baptist means that they were Calvinists. The idea for them was that God had predestined believers, and the atonement was thus for those predestined- the “particular,” meaning elect.

From 1783 Carey served as a cobbler and a pastor- he was inspired by, among other things, Jonathan Edwards's life of David Brainerd (a famous missionary to indigenous peoples) as well as the travel stories of the explorer James Cook.

In 1792 he published his “An Inquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens”. In this same year, he founded the English Baptist Missionary Society.

His “Inquiry” was a multi-pronged work, but of note was the argument that the Great Commission had not been fulfilled but was in need of being fulfilled. This was a not uncommon argument then (and I heard it a few years ago!) that the apostles were given the Great Commission by Jesus, but that was not for all Christians. Secondly, he argued that if existing churches hadn’t sent missionaries to certain places, Christians could use extra-ecclesial societies- that is, something like the modern non-profit para-church ministry, for missionary work.

Carey is famous for his work in India- and this was problematic at first because of the British East India Company. By the late 1700s, the idea that commerce and church work could be a two-pronged imperial mission was disposed of. Now commerce was king in foreign lands, and missionaries were even banned- after all, you can’t make as much money if you’ve got evangelists turning the foreign society on its ear. Carey would serve illegally in India until, eventually, he was granted the right to work within Danish-controlled territory.

His real skill, besides perseverance, was in linguistics. He translated the Bible into six distinct Indian languages and had portions of the Bible translated into dozen more. He would teach at Fort William College in India before starting his own college in Serampore- a Christian college that just celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018.

Carey’s life was imperfect- he was a wide-eyed and sometimes dogged academic whose first wife suffered from mental illnesses to which he was less than sympathetic. He is not alone as a larger-than-life character whose immediate family suffered- his children would be raised by later wives and friends. It is not unimportant to remind ourselves of the sins of even the greatest saints.

But Carey would become the model for the modern foreign missionary: centered on translation, accommodating foreign culture, and stressing the truth of the Gospel before denouncing the indigenous religion.

Today we remember William Carey on the 261st anniversary of his birth on this day in 1761.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Luke 19:

47 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who is only particular when it comes to his coffee beans- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who himself refrains from saying anything about theories of the atonement whilst podcasting because this one time… that’s a story for another time. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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